Gareth Huw Davies

Environment Blog

Time to inform drivers on vehicle emissions besides Co2

More hazardous pollutants from a car exhaust apart from Co2


I live close to a pollution hotspot, and, like many otherwise well-intentioned people I know, I add to that pollution.

I don’t drop litter, or pitch trolleys into the canal, or do things I could easily stop. This is everyday, going-about-normal-life pollution  I’m talking about. It comes out of the exhaust pipe of my car.

The 600m stretch of the A41 Tring Road in Aylesbury is officially one of the 250 most polluted roads in Britain, declared an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) in 2005. It’s lined with 110 houses, and the people who live in them face unacceptably high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2, or NOx) from slow-moving or queueing traffic, particularly at busy times morning and afternoon.

In 2010 the Environmental Audit Committee predicted 50,000 premature deaths due to poor air quality, linked to fossil fuel combustion. NOx (nitrogen dioxide), Hydrocarbons and Particulates are key contributors, particularly in urban areas, and are one of the main reasons why the UK suffers from one of the highest recordable asthma rates in the world.

The primary source of NO2 is motorised road transport, specifically cars and freight vehicles. Exposure to NO2 can decreases lung function and increase the risk of respiratory problems such as acute bronchitis. Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable.

In March 2011 a European Commission-funded study – the Aphekom project  – concluded: “In 10 European cities we have estimated that living near busy roads could be responsible for 15 percent of asthma in children and possibly for similar or higher percentages of other common chronic diseases in adults 65 and over, such as coronary heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“People deeply inhale fine particulates, tiny airborne grains caused largely by vehicle exhaust, into their lungs and possibly suffer respiratory and cardiovascular disease.”

All councils in the UK must monitor air quality to ensure it remains within national targets. Where it fails they must designate Air Quality Management Areas, indicating that the council recognises that air quality is poor within the areas, and that positive steps need to be taken to reduce these levels.

In Aylesbury, having identified the problem (and there are now two more AQMAs in the town) the local authority has been drawing up an Local Air Quality Action Plan, to improve air quality and reduce pollution through measures such as better traffic management. The scheme was due to be operational by April 2011.

Researching this blog online, I found the latest entries to the AQMA list were in Halton Borough Council, where  NO2 levels on two streets are now deemed to be too high. I could find no reference to roads being taken off the list, although that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. However progress is likely to be slow, with some solutions quite beyond the powers of the local authority.

Last year Volvo cars launched an initiative aimed at providing motorists with a broad range of emissions information when they buy their next car – irrespective of marque. It wants the Government to launch an automotive air pollutants environmental label to sit alongside the already established CO2 label displayed in new and used car showrooms.

Volvo believes it’s time to educate drivers about the complete emissions picture, rather than just CO2 in isolation. The company has launched a smart phone app, which gives drivers emissions information when they buy a car.

The initiative was launched last July, with a Facebook site and twitter account. At the launch one speaker did warn that, having finally grasped the importance of CO2 emissions, the public would find it difficult to get it head around a second raft of pollutants.

While traffic levels rise remorselessly, cars have become cleaner since the early 1990s, and this has had an effect on air pollution. The NOx produced by the average petrol car has fallen by 95%, since the introduction of catalytic converters. Some diesel cars actually produce more NOx than petrol cars, although here too engines are becoming cleaner.

it would be unrealistic to see electric cars as the saviour in the UK for some time. But in California they are already being seen as part of the solution. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has teeth, and money to spend. It recently voted $3.9 million to four companies to install charging stations in homes and public places. The funds come from a surcharge on vehicle registration fees.

Twitter hashtag #EmissionsEquality.]>